Politics and society in Australia and Japan
infused with Kantian-inspired thoughts for a better world.
‘All the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in three following questions: 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I do? 3. What may I hope?’
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781/87) B 832-833
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Desperately Seeking a Twit/Utopia…unrequited ambition?
Tweeps! We can make this work.
This week I finished
reading Twitter’s book of the moment, Greg Jericho’s The Rise of the Fifth Estate. Kudos to Jericho for taking on a
subject whose permanence is but a timeline scroll away and whose 140-character
limit can be as pithy or as devastating as any more substantial tome.
The peoples of the earth have thus entered in varying degrees into a
universal community, and it has developed to the point where a violation of
rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere. The idea of cosmopolitan
right is therefore not fantastic and overstrained; it is a necessary complement
to the unwritten code of political and international right, transforming it
into a universal right of humanity. Only under this condition can we flatter
ourselves that we are continually advancing towards a perpetual peace.
Kant, (1795) ‘Third Definitive Article on a Perpetual Peace’from Perpetual Peace
Jericho and Kant and the Twitter promise
@GrogsGamut) has done a remarkable job in penning an early account of the Twitterverse
in Australia and it will be a text I shall recommend for future students of
politics and media. Jericho himself was famously ‘outed’ as a tweepster and
blogger (see Ch. 6 ‘How to become a hashtag’). It was nonetheless a little
unsettling to finish the book as the Charlotte Dawson episode was unfolding and
twitter chatter turned to trolling. On the upside, as I write this, Jane Caro
(@JaneCaro) is setting the timeline alight with a campaign for women to
#destroythejoint following the (oh no, not again) misogyny displayed by Alan
The Twitterverse for
me is a fascinating proto-community. Regular readers will know I am something
of a Kantian idealist and this week in class we happened to explore a little
more of Kant’s ‘Perpetual Peace’ and its hope for a better world. My primary
research is about establishing a security community in East Asia where trust is
the foundation of pursuing better relations and diminishing the likelihood of
war. So naturally these elements come together as the subject of this post.
How? Get on board my roller coaster…
The beauty of
Jericho’s book was that it offers great context to what I have spent the last
little while casting my Kantian aspirations towards. It is true, I follow just a
very narrowcast version of the Twitterverse, one which allows engagement with
other Australian politics tweeps (not, though, #auspol), friends and colleagues
throughout the tertiary education sector, students—past and present,
journalists, news sources and a wonderful group of @612brisbane ABC Radio
tweepsters (more on them later…I think we’ve almost attained Kantian perfection
there…). I also reside in the Japanese twitterverse. (Oh, and some people like
my emoticons, also inspired by Japanese social media… ヽ(0▽0)人(o~o)人(*▽*)ﾉ
I ‘was joined’ to the
Twitterverse back in 2010 by guest lecturer Todd Winther, @toddocracy, in the
course Politics and Media which I was teaching at the time. A graduate of my university and now PhD candidate in polsci at another, I’d asked
Todd along to share his knowledge of Australian political parties and their use
of social media in campaigning. Twitter was still new-ish, and I was not a
particular fan of social media at the time. It was a terrific lecture, the
students were engaged and in the end Todd, supported by the students, insisted
I demonstrate the ease of joining. So there and then, I became a live
experiment in my own lecture theatre…howzat for a student-centred approach…even
my handle @psephy is a student-coined name—after my (apparent…who knew?)
obsession with convincing them all to become psephologists.
I was unsure and
tentative; kept the account locked for quite some time and used an avatar that,
like the dentists, wouldn’t reveal my identity. After about two months or so
just dropped off. I just didn’t seem to get it.
I rejoined in October
2011. Something I’d read in that weekend’s paper about QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce’s
bold grounding of the planes in his stoush with unions made me curious again
about Twitter. I flicked the switch on my iDevice and I’ve been back ever
(And after a few experimental avatars, I've finally revealed the 'real' me.)
From Twitter, I’ve
branched out into the blogosphere as well. Indeed, my experience here reflects
the path of others that Jericho writes about—really, I was finding that I
wanted to explore some of the twitter discussions in more depth (see the
sidebar to your right). It also gave me the impetus to do something I’d been
toying with for a while. As an academic, we are under pressure to publish
regularly which can be quite a challenge with a high teaching load and other demands.
I thought the blog might also be a way to ‘draft’ ideas, tease them out before
formalising their publication. More recently, I’m exploring the idea of using
the blog as an extra teaching ‘space’ to work with my students, to follow up
lecture points or additional material. Mostly, I am just enjoying the
comparative freedom that writing a blog allows, compared with the stiff and
overripe formality of academic prose. I’ve no expectation of becoming a
journalist, nor do I expect to ever earn an income from this form of
expression. I am an academic, I do have the privilege of being published and
that is fine for me, for now.
What excites, or
excited, me about the idea of the ‘Fifth Estate’ as explored by Jericho was
that I saw it as a dynamic engaged community where those who have a public
conscience or public role could interact in a kind of cyber-village square.
Previously, academics in universities, journalists in newsrooms, politicians in their parliaments, diplomats in
embassies and people in shopping centres might have accidentally bumped into
each other but Twitter allowed those boundaries to be circumvented. I find
myself involved in the most interesting exchanges ranging from my narrowcast
speciality of Japanese security to the merits of football codes to coffee. Of
course, politics figures prominently and I have ‘met’ a lot of wonderful tweeps
along the way. There is, for the most part, a sense of what Kant
perhaps regarded as the foedus pacificum,
a pacific federation, a place where
we might seek to end all wars for good.
Alas, as we’ve seen,
the Twitterverse is not immune from bullying practices. It makes us pause to
reflect what is it about human nature that drives some to do this. Hobbes and
Kant and others pondered this human fallibility centuries ago, I guess it is
folly of me to think we might be emerging from this confining cocoon. The
‘trolling’ issue of the past week has discoloured
the mostly good that we should believe Twitter can be. I remain a Kantian
optimist. As another of my favourite tweeps @Drag0nista blogged recently, this
is just as much about what we want from Twitter as well as standing up to the
unpleasantness and say ‘it’s out of line’.
There is a
Twitterverse micro-community however that seems to be getting it right.
Informally known as the #612tweepsters, it includes presenters, producers,
regular guests and avid listeners of 612ABC (@612brisbane), which has a
following of some 22, 770. It usually starts in the pre-dawn with Breakfast
presenter Spencer Howson (@SpencerHowson), continues through to Afternoons’
Kelly Higgins-Devine (@kellyhd), Drive’s Tim Cox (@timcoxtalks) and Evenings
with @reblev (Rebecca Levingston). They do a brilliant job of engaging their
audience on air through Twitter and always in positive and enriching ways.
Through the #612tweepsters I’ve met @EvanontheGC, @Kin__ , @JCBOONAH,
@SalPiracha, @armac152, @theJenHansen and @RealBrettHansen, @snoozen,
@Rastas000, @EmuHandyman and many others. They form the core of a group of people I’ve come to
appreciate as using the Twitterverse for good. We would do well to replicate it
throughout. It has also surprised me that I have embraced social media in this
Greg Jericho’s book
reminds us of the potential that a Twitter-led ‘fifth estate’ might promise.
It’s achieved much in a relatively short period of time. We can engage, we can
communicate, we can do better. William Lane had to take his Utopian ideals to
Paraguay; we can all do it from the comfort of our own homes, in front of our
Many years ago, I
opted out of formal political parties because I got tired of the pettiness, the
standover tactics, the unfulfilled promise. That disengagement, I fear, has
perhaps contributed in part to the lacklustre politics of today. I shan’t
retreat from Twitter in the same way. I’ve learnt that to be a part of a
community you have to contribute to making it the community you want it to be.
I’ve learnt to practice the politics I teach…
For anyone who wants
to understand Twitter and politics, read Grog’s book; anyone who wants to dip a
tentative toe in the Twitter waters, the join the tweepsters at 612ABC.
(Disclaimer [to the
extent it is required]: I have been a guest commentator on 612ABC and ABC Gold
Coast as a direct result of my Twitter engagement; I’d have still written those
good things about the #612tweepsters even if that hadn’t happened)